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Alan Braid and his Oklahoma clinic prepare for abortion ban

SAN ANTONIO – The woman stared at the ceiling, taking slow, deep breaths as the doctor examined the flickering dot on the ultrasound screen.

“What is going on?” she asked.

The heartbreaking news came in two parts: The flickering was a sign of heart activity, which meant the woman couldn’t have an abortion under Texas’ six-week ban. And while the doctor, Alan Braid, said he would refer her to a sister clinic in Oklahoma, where he has referred hundreds of other patients since the law took effect last year, she should hurry. Lawmakers were about to pass a law as tough as Texas’.

The woman cried as reality sank in.

By the time she arrived for a date in Oklahoma, abortion might also be banned there.

As soon as Texas enacted its six-week ban, people began fleeing the state to seek abortions. And while Texas patients have fanned out to abortion clinics across the country, experts say no state has absorbed more than neighboring Oklahoma, where abortions remain legal until the 22nd week of pregnancy.

But that could soon change. As Oklahoma’s Republican-led legislature has rushed in recent days to cut off what GOP leaders have called a “sickening” patient pipeline from Texas – seeking to enact a series of new restrictions – doctors and patients have faced mounting complications, with doctors bracing for a sudden end to abortion access and patients rushing to book appointments before it’s too late.

In Oklahoma, a closing window to access abortion

A total ban, which was passed by the legislature last week, could go into effect this summer if the Supreme Court overturns its landmark Roe v. Wade protecting the right to abortion. More worrying for abortion rights advocates is the likelihood that Oklahoma will move as soon as next week to enact a Texas-style ban, which has so far survived legal challenges. If clinics in Oklahoma stop offering abortions or limit themselves to providing care only before the end of the six weeks, patients in Texas and Oklahoma will be pushed further afield, to Louisiana, Kansas or New -Mexico, where the clinics are already full.

The urgency of the moment is keenly felt at the San Antonio clinic, Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services, and its sister clinic in Tulsa, both owned by Braid, who made national headlines in September for performing an illegal abortion about a patient and wrote about it in an opinion piece published by the Washington Post, hoping to spark a lawsuit that would help overturn the law.

Since the Texas ban went into effect, Braid has traveled to Oklahoma at least once a month, performing abortions for some of the patients he had to turn away in Texas.

“At least there was an alternative,” Braid said. If a ban takes effect in Oklahoma, he said, “I will feel totally helpless.”

Braid and his team recently decided to start educating patients about the pending legislation in Oklahoma.

“Are you aware of Oklahoma law? asked the San Antonio receptionist for the third time that morning, as she scheduled an appointment for another woman who was too advanced for an abortion in Texas.

“What?” said Nejmin, a 25-year-old mother of two, who, like other patients interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition that only her first name be used to protect her privacy.

Nejmin had just learned of Texas’ abortion ban.

Oklahoma law “is changing too?” she asked.

“We’re not sure yet,” the receptionist said. “If that changes, we’ll call you.”

At 9 a.m. on a recent Thursday, almost every seat in the waiting room at the Tulsa Women’s Clinic was full.

The women gathered there that morning looked like they might have gone to a sleepover. They wore tie-dye joggers, plaid pajama pants, fuzzy slippers, crocs with thick wool socks. Several curled up in hard-backed chairs, feet on the seat, heads buried in their knees, as a television at the front of the room broadcast news about Ukraine.

“People are really tired when they get here,” said Andrea Gallegos, who is Braid’s daughter and the clinic’s executive administrator. She goes back and forth between clinics in San Antonio and Tulsa. “Some drove all night to be here first thing in the morning.”

A few miles from downtown Tulsa, the abortion clinic faces a park owned by the local Catholic diocese. Anti-abortion protesters gather there every day, queuing with their rosaries in front of a towering white cross.

“Save your baby,” they shout to patients as they pull into the parking lot.

That Thursday, a third of the cars outside the clinic had Texas plates.

The Tulsa Women’s Clinic began to see a surge in patient numbers in Texas as soon as the law took effect in the fall, Gallegos said. In August, they treated 28 patients from Texas. By November, that number had risen to more than 300.

According to a study by the University of Texas at Austin, of the thousands of patients who left Texas to access abortions between September and December, 45% went to Oklahoma, far more than any other state, the New Mexico arriving in a distant second.

Republican lawmakers in Oklahoma City have been paying close attention to this push.

“A state of emergency exists in Oklahoma,” said State Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R), the leader of the Senate, referring to the number of abortions performed in Oklahoma since the Texas law took effect.

“It’s sickening,” Treat said. “And that’s why we’re doing everything we can to get our laws changed.”

Treat has been fighting to end abortion access since being elected over a decade ago. For him and other Oklahoma lawmakers, he said, anti-abortion policies are “at the heart of who we are.”

Sen. Julie Daniels (R), who sponsored a measure from this session inspired by the Texas ban, said she empathizes deeply with women who find themselves pregnant unexpectedly. She agrees with her fellow Democrats that lawmakers need to do more to support these women, she said. But she thinks they should limit abortion access at the same time.

“I believe in saving children even as we work on these other things,” Daniels said.

Daniels was drawn to the new legal strategy behind Texas’ abortion ban, which allows private citizens to enforce the law through civil suits.

Tracking New Measures Regarding Abortion Legislation in States

For many abortion providers in Oklahoma, the Texas-style bill is even more concerning than the abortion ban passed Tuesday, Gallegos said, because it could go into effect any day.

If an immediate ban is approved, Gallegos said, she imagines she might get a call from clinic lawyers in the middle of the workday, when doctors are performing abortions, with a waiting room full of patients. who drove for hours to get there. At any moment, she says, the lawyers could tell her that everything has to stop.

Several state abortion clinics stopped scheduling appointments in late March in preparation for the passage of this bill. While the Tulsa Women’s Clinic continued to take appointments through the end of April, Gallegos said, they struggled with the decision.

“Every day I’m like, ‘Do we stop programming?'” she said. “There are times when I’m like ‘absolutely not’ and other times I’m like ‘I don’t know’.”

Gallegos doesn’t want to turn away patients if her clinic can still offer abortion care, she said. But she dreads having to call every patient on the schedule and let them know the law has gone into effect.

Patients are already having trouble making appointments in Oklahoma. Faith, 24, said she tried to schedule an abortion at the clinic where she lives in Oklahoma City. Then she tried a few clinics in Kansas, she said, and she couldn’t get into them quickly either.

When she couldn’t get an appointment, she said, she opened a private browser and started Googling “abortion alternatives.”

“I googled the other methods to end a pregnancy,” Faith said. “Things like inserting sharp objects, consuming large amounts of stuff.”

She was relieved when she was finally able to get an appointment at Planned Parenthood in Tulsa, she said. But if she hadn’t been able to access legal abortion in her area, she says, she would still have found a way to terminate her pregnancy.

“I’m definitely the type of person if someone says ‘no’ to me in one way, I’ll find all the other ways to do things,” Faith said.

The vast majority of patients at the Tulsa Women’s Clinic have heard nothing of Oklahoma’s impending abortion ban, said Joey Banks, a doctor who comes from Montana to perform abortions at the clinic once a week. month.

Bianca, a 29-year-old woman from San Antonio, first learned of Oklahoma laws after discovering she was too advanced to have an abortion in Texas.

“It made me feel like I just didn’t know,” she said. “Things are going too fast”

Fearing that Oklahoma would pass the law before she got to the clinic, Bianca made the first available appointment. Sunday and Monday, she made the 6 p.m. round trip to Tulsa.

When she discovered Oklahoma, Bianca said, she couldn’t help but wonder what the next state was. If Oklahoma banned abortion, the receptionist told her she could try New Mexico.

“But if this whole law passes again in New Mexico, then what?” she says.

Two days after Bianca returned from Tulsa, Oklahoma’s House Committee on Public Health met to discuss a Texas-style abortion ban that could go into effect immediately.

Only one lawmaker, Rep. Ajay Pittman (D), asked about the bill.

“Can the health department or hospital association talk about the impact this will have on patients?” she says.

“At this point, I would probably ask not to,” said Rep. Todd Russ (R), one of the bill’s sponsors.

The measure passed with a 7-1 vote. She will now head to the House floor, her last stop before reaching the governor’s office.

In total, the committee discussed the bill for less than two minutes.

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